Want to reduce stress and be happier? Do these 5 things.

7 minute read article Leadership   Technology   Wisdom Comments

In a recent post I talked about the importance of being happy, and of all the things I’ve done to increase my happiness (and reduce overall stress), these five are at the top of my list.

Cut back or eliminate media consumption

There was a time when I consumed all the media. Before social media, I was a news junkie, watching what I could on TV and hitting multiple websites each day. With social media, I did those things PLUS I followed news outlets. A point came where it was all just too much.

Social Media

I have been on, at any given time, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Mastodon, and LinkedIn. I was on Twitter for years before finally giving it up a few years ago. I did end up going back, but now it’s a write-only outlet for me.

Currently, my time is divided between Facebook, Mastodon, and LinkedIn. Each has its use. I know some people hate Facebook, but I learned a long time ago that if I was going to keep my sanity, I had to make FB what I wanted it to be. I stopped thinking I had an obligation to be FB “friends” with everyone. We might be great friends in “real life,” but I will not put up with your social media shenanigans, so I keep my list pruned. It’s mostly inner-circle friends, former classmates, and some family.

I like Mastodon because it’s different. People seem kinder. There’s no algorithm, either. The ability to filter is amazing, probably the best I’ve seen. My filters are long, because just like with FB, I’ll make the experience good for me because that’s what matters.

LinkedIn is where I maintain my professional network. I don’t love it, but I don’t hate it, either. I tend to promote blog posts and speaking engagements there.

The News

My mom calls pretty frequently, upset about something she saw on the news, ready to rant. After I talk her off the ledge, we always end up having a good conversation, but in the end, I take a deep breath and tell her how much happier she’d be if she’d stop watching the news. She says she knows, but a few weeks later, the same thing happens again.

I stopped watching the news a few years ago, then I slowly cut back on reading the news online, and now I probably only look at a true news site once every few months. It’s hard to get away from it completely since there can be interesting articles and things of interest on those sites, and of course visiting Bing, if I scroll down, will show me what it considers “important” news. There’s also a fair bit of news that leaks through on social media, whether Facebook, Mastodon, or LinkedIn.

I can’t avoid it completely, and I’m not suggesting you do, either. When it comes to news and media, do the following:

  • Remove news apps from your phone. If you can’t bring yourself to do that, turn off the notifications.

  • Filter your social media to remove the tweets or posts that contain content you do NOT want to see. My Mastodon filter is huge because my peace of mind is important, far more important than someone’s political rant.

  • Limit your viewing of the news to once in the morning and then don’t open the website or switch to that channel again until the next day. If you have the ability to set up rules about app usage on your phone or computer, do that.

Make your phone dumb

After reading Deep Work by Cal Newport and Stolen Focus by Johann Hari, I decided to make some drastic changes, with the biggest being turning my iPhone into a relatively dumb phone. I removed social media apps, work email, and chat apps; I left calendar, maps, music, and a few other apps that don’t have the same addictive power as social media does. I have almost no reason to pick my phone up now unless it’s to make a call or to send a text.

Sure, I can still use the browser on my phone to do all the things I removed, but it’s more work than I’m willing to do to get that hit of dopamine.

I also make use of app limits on my phone. If there’s an app I need to have, but don’t want to overdo it, I’ll set a limit on it, and it’ll typically be a small period of time, too; minutes instead of hours.

Make your phone dumb and stop being a slave to the incessant notifications of social media and the news.


If there is one thing I’ve done to help my overall mental health over the years, it’s keeping a journal. I’ve written pretty extensively about it, and I also bring it up in a couple of my conference talks.

Don’t know what to write about? Keep it simple and write down one thing you’re grateful for.

I have my normal daily journal where I write four pages every day. I also have a 10-year journal where I summarize my day in two to three sentences. Of the four pages in my daily journal, one of them is a full page of gratitude.

A journal is a great place to work things out without bothering friends and family. It’s a great place to rant, but also a great place to dig into tough topics that you’re struggling with.

While I prefer old-fashioned paper and pen, I don’t care if you do it electronically or on paper, just as long as you give it a try!


Shinrin-yoku is the Japanese concept of forest bathing - spending time in the forest or other natural environment and connecting with nature.

A couple friends and I take a trip every year - sometimes it’s backpacking, sometimes it’s just camping, but no matter, it’s a time I really enjoy. Even though there are three of us, there’s a lot of silence during the 2-4 days we spend together. It’s a time for all of us to recharge and reconnect.

I’m also lucky because the city where I live has a bunch of great metro parks. I can drive 10 minutes from home, be in one of the metro parks but feel like I’m in the middle of nowhere - just surrounded by nature.

Take a break and spend some time outdoors!

Prioritize sleep

Several years ago I decided to make sleep a priority.

I got to bed early, typically around 8pm. I read a bit before bed, but normally it’s about 8:45 or 9:00 when I turn my light off, put my head on my pillow, and go to sleep. My wife says it doesn’t take more than a few minutes before I’m sound asleep. I wake up naturally most mornings around 6:00, feeling freshed and ready to start my day.

I track my sleep, so I’m able to see how I’m doing over time. My sleep quality tends to be pretty high.

When I talk to my friends, they tell me how they struggle getting to sleep, or how they’re “good” with only a few hours of sleep. I call bullshit on the second part of that, and there are lots of studies that agree with me. People need 7-8 hours of sleep every night, so don’t tell me you’re “good” with 4 or 5.

As for getting to sleep, something clicked with me a few years ago, but when I lay my head down, I’m able to turn off the noise. I don’t think about work, or the my day. I simply focus on my breathing and I’m out.

I also know there are things I struggle with related to sleep; if I get too hot, I have horrible dreams. It doesn’t take much, either. If my wife has a second blanket and even part of it gets on me, that’s enough to trigger it. We tend to keep our room cool, and if I’m in a hotel room, I will turn the thermostat to 65 or 66 so I can sleep.

I also can’t sleep on my back. Sleeping on my back induces sleep paralysis pretty consistently, and that’s a horrible, horrible feeling. I’m fully awake, but can’t move. Ugh.

Anyway, when things go well, I sleep like a baby.

Prioritize sleep and watch your energy increase and your outlook on things become more positive.

Final Thoughts

I do all of these things consistently, and I can say that my stress has decreased and my overall well-being has increased. I have more time to focus, and I’m more present because of these things.

Give them a try and let me know how it goes!

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